2014-03-07 / Around Town

Fee Structure Discussion Vigorous

By Barry Bridges

Five members convened for the Newport City Council’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at City Hall. Mayor Henry F. Winthrop and Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano were not present.

Much of the meeting was devoted to a continued debate on changes to Newport’s mooring fees. As a rewrite of the harbor ordinances was receiving its final second-reading consideration, Councilor Michael Farley proposed an amendment to alleviate what he viewed as a disproportionate burden on small boat owners. He made a motion to provide for automatic modifications to the mooring fees each June 30, consistent with the timing of property tax increases. Councilor Marco Camacho seconded the motion.

The councilors thereupon launched into a discussion on the best protocol for adjusting mooring fees. Third Ward representative Kathryn Leonard disagreed with Farley’s proposal, stating that the Waterfront Commission and the harbor management plan are the appropriate avenues to change the fee structure. “Before we quickly say ‘Let’s raise the rates,’ we need to listen to the commission that is always looking at this issue. The commission does a lot of work on this,” she said. She then emphasized that “boaters spend money,” rejecting the implication that they were somehow benefitting from the city’s largesse. She further asserted that it would be a mistake to implement such changes without a public hearing, and reiterated that she would not support the suggested amendment.

Councilor Naomi Neville agreed that public comment should be solicited.

Councilor Justin McLaughlin expressed frustration that the broader changes to the harbor ordinances had been on the table since November and thus subject to council debate and public input for several months. He thought it imprudent to introduce an additional amendment at the eleventh hour.

Undaunted, Farley returned to the property tax analogy of automated increases and questioned why assumptions should be different for boat owners. He also contended that, as a matter of policy, the issue was one for the council and could not be delegated to the Waterfront Commission. “Let’s set it and forget it,” he said.

Leonard responded, “The Waterfront Commission was given the task of looking at fees; we are not abdicating our responsibilities. They came to us with recommendations, and it would be a ‘slap in the face’ to the commission and the harbormaster if we were to set the fees.”

Farley maintained the current policy of charging boat owners about $20 per month has created a 15-year waiting list for moorings. “It’s a little low,” he said, “and we’ve lost revenue by sleeping on the issue. Again, it’s unfair to raise property taxes on homeowners who live here and not on mooring holders who don’t live here.”

Leonard said that the waiting list did not exist because of fees. “This is the case in every harbor town. We have to follow proper channels while not having a negative economic impact.”

When the debate closed, Farley’s motion to tie mooring rates to property tax rates was defeated by a vote of 3 to 2. Neville, Leonard, and McLaughlin voted against the measure, while Farley and Camacho supported it.

The original changes to the harbor ordinances were then approved 4 to 1, with Farley casting the opposing vote. Under the rewritten provisions, the annual mooring charge for Newport residents will rise from $100 to $130 per

In other business, the council approved an ordinance revision to impose an additional $50 fee on administratively-approved late requests for special event licenses. City Manager Jane Howington had voiced concern that the proper procedure for licensing through the City Council is circumvented when groups appear in her office after the filing deadline. Howington explained to the council that “the amendment would provide a disincentive for people to file late.” The change was approved 4 to 1, with Leonard voting no.

The Council also granted business renewal licenses to Pirate Pedicab, Pedi-Power Pedicabs, and Newport Pedicab, with six pedicabs allowed for each company.

The Barking Crab Restaurant, 151 Swinburne Row, received an indoor entertainment license for a deejay, a band with vocalists, and guitar and drums. Doors and windows are to remain closed as a courtesy to neighbors.

Brian Kiracofe was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Advisory Commission.

The next meeting of the City Council is scheduled for Wednesday, March 12, at City Hall.

Return to top